Parking charges U-turn in Babergh is ruled out

Babergh Conservative leader John Ward said it was a good step for the councils to take. Picture: SAR

Council leader John Ward said there was a cumulative three-year deficit - Credit: Archant

A U-turn on introducing changes to parking charges in south Suffolk has been ruled out despite the council ending the year on a better-than-expected financial footing.

Babergh District Council is to slash free parking in most areas of the district from three hours free to one hour from January, as the current arrangements left it with a deficit of £185,000 each year that meant maintenance work couldn’t take place.

Despite the devastating economic impact of Covid-19 – which also hit council car park income hard – the authority reported a £736,000 surplus in its year end finances for 2020/21, which have been pumped into propping up reserves.

At Tuesday evening’s full council meeting, Conservative councillor for Great Cornard, Peter Beer, asked if the car park charges would be withdrawn in light of the year-end figure.

But council leaders have said that the ongoing financial picture still provided a hazard and the plans would not be withdrawn.

Conservative leader John Ward said the £1.7million cumulative three year deficit “still stands, and I don’t expect it will improve in the foreseeable future”.

He continued: “The favourable out-turn of £736,000 does not change this because most of this was down to fortuitous one-off benefits that won’t necessarily be reported in future years.”

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Cllr Elisabeth Malvisi, Conservative cabinet member for the environment added that the district was “most definitely listening” to businesses which feared charges could put customers off, and said the council will “still be providing a very generous one-hour free period with only modest short term charges for stays beyond that”.

Proposals first emerged in December 2020 and proved controversial with a swathe of businesses and councillors opposing the plans.

The authority said it would only introduce the charges when the most severe period of Covid-19 had passed, and recently confirmed the fees would begin in January.

Cllr Beer said that the maximum allowed council tax increase and the parking charges, both of which he voted against, had been put forward in light of a predicted deficit in the finances.

He said that withdrawing the planned charges now “will give our town centres of Sudbury and Hadleigh breathing space to recover from Covid 19.”

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